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Israeli Troops Dismantle West Bank Settlement

The move comes one day after three Palestinian militants attacked an Israeli army post in Gaza, killing four soldiers and wounding four more.

The settlement outpost is one of several in the West Bank and other areas that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to remove as part of the recently adopted peace plan that endeavors to establish a Palestinian state by 2005.

Israeli Army commanders met Monday with settler leaders, delivering a list of some 14 outposts, most of which are largely uninhabited, and asked them to remove the sites voluntarily. Settler leaders apparently said they would not remove the housing voluntarily, but would not use resist the soldiers with violence.

Later, Israeli soldiers tore down the empty trailers at Newe Erez South outside the Palestinian town of Ramallah. The soldiers then removed a water tower that was part of a nearby outpost called Armona, according to media reports from the region.

“We won’t lay a hand on soldiers. They’re our brothers,” settler leader Yehoshua Mor-Yosef said of the soldiers’ actions, according to the Associated Press. But, he added, “if we are evacuated, we’ll return the night after and establish 10 new outposts.”

An estimated 62 outposts have been built since Sharon took office in March 2001. The Israeli leader has never explicitly promised to remove all of the settlements, with aides saying that further determinations would have to be made as to which outposts are considered legal and illegal.

The settlement activity comes in the wake of new violence over the weekend when, in a show of rejection of the road map measures, three Palestinian gunmen disguised as Israeli soldiers attacked an Israeli army outpost near Gaza on Sunday, killing four Israeli soldiers and wounding four others. The three gunmen were killed during an exchange of gunfire with Israeli soldiers.

The attack was an unusual joint effort of three militant groups: Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades.

“This joint operation was committed to confirm our people’s united choice of holy war and resistance until the end of occupation over our land and holy places,” a statement from the militant groups said according to The Washington Post.

A fifth Israeli soldier was killed later Sunday during an ambush in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas condemned Sunday’s attack, but said that he would not order an armed crackdown on such militias and risk sparking a civil war.

“The suffering of the Palestinians should not be dealt with by incitement. It needs real solutions,” Abbas said in comments apparently aimed at the militant groups, according to the AP.

“There is absolutely no substitute for dialogue,” Abbas said, adding he still believes the armed groups would change their position on the peace plan.

Last Friday, Hamas broke off talks with Abbas — who is also known as Abu Mazen — saying it would continue attacks on Israelis and rejecting compromises Abbas made at last week’s U.S.-led summit with Israel’s Sharon and President Bush.

Halting anti-Israeli violence is a key part of the Palestinian obligation to the peace plan and Abbas has had to defend himself against allegations that he was too conciliatory to Israeli demands during the recent peace talks.

For his part, Sharon is also facing internal opposition for his endorsement of the road map, withstanding loud jeering from right-wing members of his Likud party during a Sunday meeting.

“It wasn’t easy,” Sharon said, according to the AP. “Yesterday, at the Likud convention it was even harder, but this is the policy I have decided on and I will implement it.”

President Bush on Monday condemned the latest violence and called on the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers to stand by their pledges to implement the U.S.-backed plan for peace.

“I recognize there’re going to be extremists, particularly in the Palestinian territories, that want to blow up peace. I think people are sick of it,” the president told reporters.

“The average Palestinian must understand that their lives will improve with the vision of Prime Minister Abbas,” Mr. Bush said. “And the Arab neighborhood understands that violence will lead to nothing except misery and the lack of hope.”

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